Social model of disability shows community can be more inclusive

Redesigning the world to be more inclusive

December 3 is International Day of People with Disability. The theme this year is Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world.

The last couple of years have been hard. We had to completely change our way of life. We've been locked down and we've been locked out for our own safety and for the health of the broader community. We've all made sacrifices for each other. The thing that has made it all possible is accessible digital media.

Instead of attending in-person meetings, we've been meeting by Teams, Zoom and Webex, instead of going to the movies, we've been watching television and video on demand and our students and kids have been able to attend school and university remotely, we've had Telehealth appointments, we've done Zoom yoga, attended virtual galleries.

These are all things people with disability have been asking for for a very long time. The past two years have been difficult, but they have also been a time of great innovation and disability leadership has been key to this innovation.

Disability leaders have drawn on the social model of disability to show the world can be redesigned to be more inclusive and accessible to everyone.

The social model of disability doesn't locate the "problem" of disability in an individual's "damaged body", instead it considers disability to be a problem with how we've decided to build our environments to exclude certain bodies. Under this way of thinking about disability, if a wheelchair user wanted to get to the top of a flight of stairs, the stairs would be the problem, not the wheelchair users' inability to walk.

The solution of course is to change the environment, to make ramps available. To make these spaces more welcoming to people from diverse backgrounds, with different ways of doing things.

Of course, we changed our work environment significantly during the pandemic, it largely became a digital environment. This had benefits for many different types of people for many different reasons. Now as we get back to normal, we really need to think about what kind of normal we want to create and who this will include, and who this will exclude.

We should look to people with disability for innovative ideas about how to create an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world.

  • Professor Katie Ellis, director of Curtin University's Centre for Culture and Technology.
This story Redesigning the world to be more inclusive first appeared on The Canberra Times.